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A scandal-free Metro Manila Filmfest

From left: MMDA chair Francis Tolentino, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and QC Mayor Herbert Bautista are addressing the existing problems associated with the MMFF in the past years and even decades.

In the 1993 edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) a supposed leakage of the list of winners marred that year’s awards presentation.

After 17 years, I am assuring you that there wasn’t. I know the whole story, but I will not bother to get into that anymore because that would re-open old wounds that had healed in time. However, I am still willing to share with anyone what happened that time, but in private.

It was just unfortunate that a former festival official, who is no longer part of the MMFF, panicked and pushed the wrong button by revising rules and regulations at the last minute. I swear that was not necessary. There was no need to do that.

So what was altered in midstream? It concerned the list of nominees. Prior to that, there were only three finalists per category.

To counter and cover the tracks of the supposed leakage (there was no cause for alarm, actually), the list of the finalists was altered at the last minute. Everyone whose name appears in the credits of any filmfest entry was nominated. Of course, there was only one winner per category. And the losing nominees weren’t exactly thrilled since everyone was there anyway. After the winner, the next best artistic contributions weren’t given proper credit anymore since there are 58,000 other names in the list of finalists. This practice was continued in time, but that was truly farcical.

The only positive result of having so many nominees is that there is better star attendance during the awards presentation. Filmfest participants make sure they are present during the awarding because there is a cash prize given to the winner — but only if the one who wins is there and, later, during the thanksgiving dinner that is usually hosted by the MMDA in February.

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In the past few years, it became more and more difficult to bribe the big names to show up in the Gabi ng Parangal. They don’t get scared anymore about not getting the cash prize given the cost of attending movie events. The ladies spend on gowns, accessories and getting dolled up by top makeup and hair artists. In the end, they don’t even break even — despite the cash prize. And woe to the losers.

The worst part is that after spending so much, they get attacked by the fashion police on both print and TV. The winner, of course, couldn’t care less. What better accessory is there than an acting trophy?

The dwindling star attendance in the MMFF — and in other awards races for that matter — however, are just some of the problems that had been plaguing the annual film festival.

The faulty systems that had been in practice by the MMFF for the longest time are mercifully being corrected — thanks to the new head of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Francis Tolentino. Tasked to oversee the revisions is Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who will sit as chairman of the board of judges. At the moment, the list of members of the panel is still being finalized. But the bus driver, teacher and student who will also be part of those who will choose the winner have already been appointed. (There is also a housewife, who is actually accomplished in her own field.) They will be there so that there will be a complete representation from all sectors. I will write more about them in my next column.

But going back to the insane practice of having 58,000 nominees, the MMFF is now trimming the list down to only three per category. This will give more importance to the truly outstanding.

The list of finalists, however, will not be revealed until the awards night on Dec. 26 at the Meralco Theater. It will be produced by Tessie Celestino-Howard’s Airtime Marketing, Inc. — and to be directed by Al Quinn. GMA 7 will air the rites live. I hope this signals the return of the big movie awards presentations.

The public therefore should expect a suspenseful evening in this year’s MMFF awards presentation. It’s going to be a double suspense since the names of the nominees will be known only on that evening — to be followed by the announcement of the winner.

I am happy that MMDA chair Francis Tolentino and Hon. Edwin Lacierda — plus Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista (he is the vice chair of the executive committee) — are addressing the existing problems associated with the MMFF in the past years and even decades. 

Every year, Ricky Lo and I usually run a fearless forecast on the MMFF winners in our respective columns and, modesty aside, we always get them right. Unless, of course, there are big upsets that happen from time to time. Ricky and I aren’t exactly gifted psychics (unless he thinks he is). The filmfest winners are actually easy to predict because you only have to choose from eight entries. I can’t make any prediction as I write this, however, since I have yet to sit down and watch the films. (It’s also a tough race since the entries are promising.)

But with the new MMFF officials zeroing in on existing problems, I can see through my crystal ball (actually, a set of new guidelines) a more or less scandal-free Metro Manila Film Festival this year. Maybe there will be less brouhaha.

I can’t see the entire outcome yet, but I can safely guess that we are going to have a saner filmfest compared to previous years.

(On Tuesday, the MMFF removes the festival’s biggest thorn in its rules and regulations.)

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